SOHO Space Observatory photographed its own fragment

While studying the images taken by the SOHO Solar Observatory, astronomers noticed an unusual bright object that appeared in the field of view of its cameras. During the subsequent analysis of the data, they came to the conclusion that this was a piece of dust, which was a fragment of the telescope itself.

The strange object was captured in images taken on December 20, 2022. The researchers immediately realized that they had stumbled upon something amazing. Over 27 years of operation, SOHO has discovered thousands of near-solar comets. However, the strange body was completely unlike one of the tailed guests approaching our luminary.

Later, scientists concluded that in reality the object was not next to the Sun, but next to the telescope itself. This conclusion is based on the following two facts. Firstly, if the body really was in the vicinity of the Sun, then, taking into account the brightness, its size would be comparable to one of the inner planets and astronomers, of course, would have noticed it long ago.

Secondly, it could not be a bright near-solar comet. The object showed no signs of coma or tail and, more importantly, abruptly “turned away” from the Sun. Some near-solar comets can indeed move along curved trajectories – but this does not happen in such short periods of time and not with such a dramatic bend. As for the version with a hypothetical spacecraft, such a radical change in trajectory at such a distance and at such a size, to put it mildly, would be a stretch for physics — even if it is physics from a science fiction movie. 

According to astronomers, everything is explained much more simply. Micrometeorites get into SOHO from time to time. Their hits knock out accumulations of particles from its heat shield. Shortly before the appearance of the object, SOHO cameras recorded a bright band corresponding to the appearance of such a cluster. This means that a micrometeorite got into the telescope. Therefore, the mysterious object is actually a small particle of dust (a fragment of thermal protection), located at a distance of only a few meters from it.

As for the unusual trajectory of a piece of dust, it is probably explained by the Lorentz force. SOHO has a small, but not negligible electromagnetic field.  Any oppositely charged piece of dust passing nearby will surely be attracted to it along a curved trajectory.

However, since the image of the bright object was taken shortly before Christmas, the researchers also allowed an alternative explanation of the event. But according to them, it requires not scientific, but magical thinking.

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